It’s odd to think of the term “Jewish-American Princess” as empowering to women. Born out of the ’80s, the term was used to slam Jewish women for being materialistic, stereotyping them as spoiled, rich brats.
But that’s an old, bad joke to comic Cory Kahaney, who puts a royal spin on the dirty little phrase with her new theater show J.A.P.: Princesses of Comedy. The show, which is making its debut Jan. 25 to 29 at the Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale, is the ultimate tribute to female Jewish comics, featuring some of today’s hottest female acts in Jewish comedy performing and paying homage to the groundbreaking greats of the past using technology and rare archival footage.
Kahaney said she wants the show, which lasts about 95 minutes, to give audiences a full understanding of the history of Jewish women and standup.
“We consider ourselves princesses because we are the daughters of these women that we’re honoring in the show,” said Kahaney, who was one of the final five on NBC’s Last Comic Standing and was named Best Comedian in New York City by Backstage magazine. “We’re trying to debunk the myth by the nature of how talented, hardworking and elegant we are.”
Along with Kahaney, up-and-coming acts Cathy Ladman, Jackie Hoffman and Jessica Kirson will have their own standup routines after each introduces one of the four legendary princesses of comedy being honored that night: Belle Barth, Jean Carrol, Totie Fields and Betty Walker. These women were pioneers in being the first females that did standup comedy, breaking into the male-dominated business and breaking stereotypes.
On top of comedy sketches, Kahaney said performances by the legends will be interspersed throughout the show via rare audio, video and photographs to culminate into a “very visually and funny bone-stimulating presentation.”
The idea first came to Kahaney in October 2004 after the wild success of comedy tours like the Kings and Queens of Comedy. It was originally conceived as just featuring four female Jewish comedians, but Kahaney’s producers said she should give Jewish audiences more than that.
“Jewish audiences are the best,” she said. “They love to laugh. They know suffering and survived their pain in life by finding the humor in it.”
So she did her homework and emerged months later with the fleshed-out concept for J.A.P.: a theatrical play meant to entertain and teach audiences about the history of women in Jewish comedy by having the modern day comedic royalty paying homage to their roots.
That’s great for Jewish audiences, but what about non-Jewish crowds?
“The show’s going to be entirely in Yiddish,” she jokes. “But we tell jokes and talk about our lives. I think if you thought Seinfeld was funny, you’ll get this. Jews tend to be really funny. You’ll enjoy it triply if you’re Jewish, though.”
Kahaney’s show will be performed in New York after its debut in Fort Lauderdale. She said she hopes audiences of all kinds will learn to appreciate the impact women overall had and continue to have on comedy.
“I know it sounds corny, but for the women in the audience, even if they’re not Jewish, it’s a really empowering thing to see how funny and successful a woman can be,” she said.
Rafael Sangiovanni can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.